The Sprint of things and NFCFeature
Posted by Seth PlanckNovember 11th, 2011 at 1:55 PM Filed Under Featured, Latest News
The Sprint of things and NFC
NFC Rumors headed over to the Sprint Open Solutions Conference in San Jose this last week to see what the carrier was up to in regards to NFC. After all, Sprint did partner with El Goog on the Google Wallet and has committed itself to an open NFC ecosystem where no NFC traffic will be blocked or encumbered for companies and consumers. AT&T, Verizon & T-Mobile can’t say the same, which is why we get on their cases most weeks here on the blog. Since the Google Wallet announcement Sprint has been quiet on NFC. No press releases, no announcements, no new NFC phones. So we wanted to find out what gives on the “Now Network” and to be frank, we were pleased with what we found out. The only thing that pleases us is consumer focused business practices when it comes to MNOs.
This post isn’t so much about specific services as it is about the new mantra over in Overland Park. Sprint is reinventing itself and culturally changing how it sees itself as it goes into the future, and it’s all good.
Sprint emerging as a disruptive force in NFC and internet services
We were lucky enough to get together with some of the folks making changes over at Sprint, and we heard the same thing again and again. Sprint is becoming a disruptive force in the world of MNOs. Now that can just be branding messages, but what we observed is that Sprint is acting like a start up where ideas and ideals are the currency within the company. We sat down with Brian Smith, Director of Open Platforms, who told NFC Rumors, or should I say corrected us, that Sprint no longer sees itself as a telco and, in fact, views itself now as a “Mobile Internet Provider.”
That one phrase could sum up Sprint’s whole new identity and gives clues to where they are heading. If you are familiar with the concept of the “internet of things” you will understand how a connected world is the future that is being built today. If you are not familiar with this phrase, let us explain. The internet of things is the notion that physical objects and sensors are connected to the web and can interact back and forth. For example, your refrigerator could know its own contents, interact with the web, find deals on the same products and even send discount coupons to your phone. In fact, a server could know your location and remind you to pick up items when you are in the vicinity.
If it senses a temperature variance, it could send you an alert. Everything could be connected to mobile commerce also allowing you to refill, deal with warranty issues or recommend a product to a friend by simply tapping your mobile device against a real world physical object. Aside from data connections to make the internet of things a reality you will need NFC and RFID tags for different objects and services. That is where Sprint comes in. Instead of trying to own NFC services and objects, Sprint appears to be acting as a facilitator by providing the data. From what we could garner, Sprint is working with companies and developers to bring the internet of things to the now network. This new identity puts Sprint ahead of its competitors and as they build out their LTE network, it positions Sprint in a very strong spot.
This new view that chucks out the old concept of a telco and brings in the new focus as a Mobile Internet Service Provider isn’t just limited to one group within Sprint, this ideal and goal runs from the top of the company down to every department. What attracts us to this concept is how business friendly and un-controlling it is. It allows for innovation from outside organizations and provides consumers with services to make NFC useful everyday.
The dangers of NFC
NFC has the potential to change how we interact with our world. From how we access our homes, how we pay for goods and services and even how we interact with advertisements and our homes electronics. The positives associated with NFC and other communication protocols are set to change how we use information on levels that rival the internet. In short, NFC brings the internet offline in real and frictionless ways. However, NFC isn’t without its draw back. If unscrupulous companies use your information in ways that don’t support your privacy rights, you could find your personal information being used to profile you and market products and services at you. If closed ecosystems are created by MNOs this could cut down the choices available to you of services you can use, which would no doubt raise costs and fees. This is our issue with Isis and the MNOs associated with it. However to be fair it isn’t just Isis – it is NFC MNO joint ventures the world over, where we see groups of MNOs coming together to control and squeeze out competitors. As with every great step forward in technology, NFC comes with risks associated with it.
If you follow NFC Rumors on a regular basis you will know we are not usually very forgiving of MNOs’ practices and it has even been suggested we are anti-MNOs. The simple fact is we are just pro consumers and pro consumer rights. MNOs have unprecedented power over our lives at this time with our financial lives due to go into NFC mobile wallets, marketing targeted straight at us and many items we use everyday, including car keys and door keys, all traveling over our MNOs’ networks. When an MNO views itself as nothing but the conduit and service enabler, that gives consumers choice and power over the services they use and allows the open market to work as it should. To a degree, this negates privacy concerns because different service providers then only have access to portions of information about you that you control and allow rather than one company like Isis having all of your data. Sprint appears to recognize both the issues and potentials of NFC.
The changes in Sprint’s model aren’t a new thing. From having a poor customer service reputation they now enjoy the top spot. From having, quite frankly, awful phones they now rival AT&T in handset selection. They even have the iPhone now which with unlimited data, is an attractive prospect to consumers. From having poor connectivity Sprint deployed 4G first in the US with Wimax and is now deploying its LTE network and is working with other companies like Light Squared to built out fast. Indicators of the new disruptive, consumer focused Sprint can be seen in many places including in the bottom line where Sprint has gone from losing thousands of customers every month to turning it around and attaining net gains. With T-Mobile USA slowly failing or becoming consumed by AT&T the US needs a third company like Sprint to keep the market competitive. From our perspective it’s great to see the number three setting up a truly open ecosystem that enables data transfer rather than controlling it. No doubt Sprint will figure out ways to monetize their new model, and that’s great if they can be profitable while at the same time being consumer focused.
Risks to Sprint as a mobile internet service provider and NFC enabler
Sprint still has some challenges to face including keeping its relationships strong with current allies, like Google and Apple. What Sprint has in its favor with its position on NFC and the internet of things in an open ecosystem is only as strong as the support and collaboration it is currently enjoying from internet giants and OEM manufacturers. By creating the collaborative ecosystem that Sprint is, they risk other businesses’ needs and wants potentially derailing progress. Keeping relationships strong goes hand in hand with Sprint’s future success.
If Sprint follows through on what they are working towards they could become the poster child for MNOs around the globe. We have heard rumors of more NFC phones hitting the network in the not so distant future and will keep you updated on Sprint’s progress. Sometimes being number three in the US is a good thing – Sprint is hungry and the buzz among their teams felt tangible. Keep it up Sprint, and bring us some more NFC phones!